by Vicki Nelson Bodoh
At a recent carriage symposium that I attended, the speakers' major difference was in how each viewed whether to conserve, preserve, restore or reproduce. Those who look at original condition carriages in a sad state may choose a method of changing that state. The conserve/preserve camp says, "Save it just the way it is as only by saving vehicles in their original conditions can we have evidence as to how vehicles were constructed, painted and trimmed." Restorers instead say, "Document the original and then rebuild, repaint, repair so the carriage looks like it just came off the 'showroom floor' a century ago."
To me, it boils down to a few major items:
1. Does the vehicle have major historical significance? Is it very unusual, owned by an important person in history or a one of a kind vehicle? If so, preserve and protect it. Above and below are shots of our original condition Albany by Northwestern Mfg. Co., Ft. Atkinson
2. Will the vehicle be part of a static collection? If it will not be horsed but will remain in a museum, preserve or conserve and house it properly.
3. Has it already been restored one or more times? Research similar vehicles and restore it in a way that reflects what it once would have been. Above is my antique trap by French & Co., Boston, purchased restored and again restored by Colonial Carriage
4. Is it is a lovely original antique that should be conserved but you really want to drive it? Then find a craftsman who can reproduce a similar carriage for your use and save the original to be used for historical information.
And that is where the difficulty lies. Finding a craftsman to duplicate beautiful antique carriages so those in original condition can be saved rather than restored is difficult. The cost of that skill is expensive.
I drive, on very special occasions, my original condition vehicles (ones that are lovely but not museum quality). I often drive my restored antique carriages (ones that were no longer original when I purchased them). I frequently drive and show my reproductions of traditional carriages. I will soon drive the reproduction of the skeleton gig!